Long layoffs in hockey can have strange effects. It can be hard to tell if the extra rest will or won’t outweigh the inevitable rust.
The Flames, who went 18 days between games before winning their first two back, evidently made the rest count. The Blackhawks, who enjoyed 13 days off to end 2021, evidently did not.
The Flames ran away for a 5-1 victory Sunday at the United Center. The loss — although inflated by two late goals — bookended a disastrous weekend for the Hawks, who were outscored by a combined 11-2 by the Predators and Flames and have lost four in a row dating to Dec. 17.
Interim coach Derek King clearly was disappointed, offering more criticism of his team than he has throughout his tenure.
“Half the guys were not ready to play [Saturday],” King said. “We only had three or four guys who weren’t ready to play [Sunday]. I’m not going to ever name names, but they know who they are. We’ll address it, talk within our doors, and we’ll figure this out.”
The Hawks played well in the first period, even taking a short-lived lead when Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat connected for another goal.
But the second period quickly became one of the Hawks’ worst in months. Aided by three consecutive power plays, the Flames tied a franchise record with 26 shots on goal in the period, scoring twice on special teams (including once short-handed) to build a 3-1 lead that the Hawks never really threatened.
Rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom was stellar despite making his first NHL start in a tough situation, finishing with 37 saves, but the team’s effort in front of him was so flat that his occasional heroics hardly mattered. The Flames finished with a 42-31 edge in shots on goal and a 40-22 advantage in scoring chances.
“Especially in the second [period], we just started forcing the issue,” King said. “We didn’t have to. But the next thing you know, the puck’s turned over or it’s a blocked shot, and they’re gone.
“This is the thing I’m trying to explain to these guys that you don’t have to do. [If] you stick to the game plan, you play the game right, you do all the little things we’ve been talking about in our pre-scouting, and you just follow that, [it will work]. And if you follow that and that doesn’t work, then that’s my fault, and I’ll take the blame on that. But I don’t know if it’s my fault because they haven’t done it for three periods.”
King made three lineup changes from Saturday, replacing MacKenzie Entwistle and Ryan Carpenter with Josiah Slavin and Kurtis Gabriel on the forward side and switching out Riley Stillman for Caleb Jones on defense.
In retrospect, he seemed to regret using the blender as much as he did, particularly once Jones and Erik Gustafsson’s third pair struggled just as much as Stillman and Gustafsson had Saturday.
“You take a couple of guys out of your lineup and think you’ll put a couple of guys in there to help, maybe change it up a little bit, and sometimes that backfires on you,” King said. “And maybe it did on me tonight. Maybe I should have kept the lineup we had against Nashville.”
The brutal back-to-back performances are even more concerning because they followed a week of four supposedly sharp, helpful practices for the Hawks.
Just as the transition from training camp to the season’s opening week showed, time off only seems to hurt this team.
“Obviously, losing 6-1 and 5-1 is not our best,” DeBrincat said. “We all have better, and we know that in the locker room. We have to come back stronger, more mentally prepared.”